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What Happens in a Federal Criminal Appeal?

When people believe that they were wrongly convicted of a crime or that the sentence they were given was too harsh, they are entitled to appeal the conviction or the sentence to the Circuit Court. The appeal gives the defendant the opportunity to introduce errors that may have occurred during the trial because these errors may have been the cause of your unfortunate outcome. An attorney would need to demonstrate that the decision was wrong, and if she manages to do so, she may be able to reverse the outcome. The defendant has the right to appeal a “guilty” verdict, but the government is not allowed to appeal a “not guilty” verdict.

The Appeals Process.

The appeals court may make a decision based on written briefs, but the court selects some cases for “oral argument.” In the court of appeals, oral argument means that the appellate lawyers and the judges will discuss the legal principles in question. Both sides have a chance to address the court for a limited amount of time. In most cases, it will be 15 minutes.

It is your choice whether or not to take the opportunity to argue orally, but it is always recommended that you accept it. When an attorney has a chance to make oral arguments, it is the best opportunity that you have to get your point across clearly and concisely. If you can manage to do this, your chances of winning your appeal will increase.

The First Step – File a “Notice of Appeal.”

The first step is to file a “notice of appeal.” You only have 10 days to file a notice of appeal after you receive your verdict. This is enough time for you to hire an attorney and begin the appeals process. After your attorney files the notice of appeal, he or she can begin to prepare your case.

The Second Step – Prepare the Record.

The attorney will file a record on appeal that contains the court reporter’s transcripts and the clerk’s records.

The Third Step – File the Opening Brief.

The opening brief is the written argument that explains why the court’s decision must be reversed. It may only be based on what is in the record, and it outlines the defendant’s reasoning for wanting to reverse the conviction. If you are asking for a lighter sentence, it gives the reasons that the defendant is deserving of a lighter sentence.

The government attorney has 30 days to prepare his or her answering brief.

The Fourth Step – The Oral Arguments.

A date may be set for oral arguments. On that date, the government attorney and the appellate attorney will argue the case before the judges. The defendant does not attend the oral arguments, and witnesses and evidence will not be presented at this time. If oral arguments were not presented, the judges will make the decision based only on the written briefs.

The Fifth Step – The Decision.

After the judges read the briefs and hear the oral arguments, they will decide that the verdict was correct, needs to be reversed or needs to be modified. A judge will explain the court’s reasoning for the decision that it made. The interested parties will learn the judge’s opinion within three months.

The Final Step – The Outcome.

In most cases, when the defendant prevails, it results in a new trial or resentencing.

The “Writ of Certiorari.”

In the event that the defendant loses in the court of appeals, he or she may file a petition for a “writ of certiorari.” A writ of certiorari is the document that asks the Supreme Court to review the case. This usually does not occur unless the case involved an “unusually important legal principle.” It also occurs if at least two federal appellate courts gave different interpretations of the law. A case may also fall under one of the few special circumstances when the Supreme Court is required to hear the appeal.

Waiving the Right to Appeal.

You may waive the right to appeal. Most government attorneys require that you waive your right to appeal before they will offer you a plea bargain. In the event that the government breaches your plea bargain, your right to appeal will be intact, so you will be able to appeal in that instance.


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"Spodek Law Group have offered me excellent support and advice thru a very difficult time. I feel I've dealt with someone who truly cares and wants the best outcome for you and yours. I'm extremely grateful for all the help Spodek Law Group has offered me. I can't recommend them..."

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